I love Phase 1. Give me a new project every week to research and investigate. Let me build a prototype and hack it together with duck tape and spit. Unfortunately without a well defined phase 2, there aren’t many people willing to bank role a continuous prototyping and experimenting lifestyle. And then, if you succeed in developing a phase 2, it takes a whole different skill set and dedication.
It was a busy week in the news for 3D printing. Big names are making big news. The hype is fun, but is the technology ready for main stream scrutiny? It is going to take a lot of education before consumers understand the variety of printing methods, materials, and the massive cost differential for quality and flexibility.
A little over a week ago a friend posted on facebook a link to the Free Universal Construction Kit. The kit takes about 10 different favorite child construction toys, Legos, Lincoln Logs, K’nex, Tinker toys, and others and allows you to connect the different toys together with 3d printed adapters. I had to have them. I started doing web searches and making phone calls, yes phone calls, I often over research a problem instead of just asking someone for help. As a technologist I regularly see RTFM attitudes that are part of our culture and can be counter productive to just getting a job done.
Back to inspiration. It didn’t take long to find out that MakerBot had a showroom in lower Manhattan. They don’t do any printing, but referred me to MakeXYZ.com to find someone to print the kit. It turns out there are hundreds or maybe thousands of hobbyists out there willing to send you a quote to print items. I put in my zip code and immediately found a number of individuals with 3D printers in a town near me.
I’ve known about 3D printers for many years. I’ve dreamed about them since Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age and believed in their potential after reading Daniel Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom. I am working in a newsroom now that follows the 3D printed gun stories that made the public notice this technology. None of this inspired me beyond a good read, it was a facebook post about a year old pattern that excited me into action.
The Free Universal Construction Kit from Adapterz on Vimeo.
The 3D printing revolution will not directly affect 95% of the people you know in the next 20 years. 3D printing will not enter every household. It will not alter the way we communicate with each other in a dramatic fashion. 3D printing will not disrupt every sector of the global economy, aid in the upheaval of governments, and challenge century-old social contracts. 3D printing is not the next internet.
Maybe that’s why I am so interested in following it’s progression. Maybe the internet got too big too fast for it to be exciting to me right now. Maybe I just don’t feel like the things I’m making online are tangible enough to give real value to anyone beyond a flash of entertainment. Maybe 20 years is just a long time to be focused on any skill set without getting bored.
The first time I went ‘online’ in a meaningful way, with a web browser, was in December of 1994. Netscape 1.0 had just been released and I surfed the net for hours. For weeks everything I saw in the non-virtual world would inspire me to think about the ways it was going to change now that people could go online. I told everyone I knew and met about how everything was different now. It was usually the same, “sounds cool, I don’t really get it, but I can’t see how it will ever effect me”. It only took a couple of years, the rise of Ebay, the rapid growth of email and soon people realized the web was something they wanted in their lives. Even with a 3D printer in everyone’s home, it just won’t have the same impact. But that doesn’t stop it from being revolutionary and super cool.
3D printing services will start to pop-up all around us. Libraries are starting to give access to 3D maker labs. Libraries are where many people got their internet for years, and many still do. UPS is testing having 3D printers available in stores. 3D printing will challenge us to think differently about copyright and patent law. It will increase the level of abundance that we now have which will lead to disruption of production processes and supply chains. I can’t be certain about all that will be affected, but I can be certain that it excites me like the early days of the internet and I would like to make an attempt at chronicling the growth and my understanding of this new way to express oneself.